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AI Marketing Stunts Are Here. Is Fashion Ready?

It’s only getting easier to create AI-generated content like the Balenciaga-Harry Potter mashup, but whether brands should be concerned about how their images are used or try to get in on the action themselves is up for debate.
On the left: an image of a Balenciaga store sign above glass windows looking into a store. On the right: a Harry Potter film poster.
The fast-evolving technology has helped people from outside the industry score some of the biggest fashion moments over the past several weeks, including the video mashups of Balenciaga with Harry Potter and various other film and TV series. (Shutterstock, Getty Images)

AI is turning out to be surprisingly good at viral marketing.

The fast-evolving technology has helped people from outside the industry score some of the biggest fashion moments over the past several weeks, including the video mashups of Balenciaga with Harry Potter and various other film and TV series, and the image of the Pope in a magnificent white cocoon of a puffer jacket, also inspired by Balenciaga.

The initial Harry Potter video posted by YouTube user demonflyingfox three weeks ago, which features digital lookalikes of the actors in the movie franchise without an ounce of buccal fat and wearing Balenciaga-esque looks, is at 5.9 million views and counting. By comparison, the video of Balenciaga’s Autumn/Winter 2023 show on the brand’s YouTube channel has just 2.6 million views after a month.

In theory, this sort of AI content is great for the brand. It gets it in front of millions of people and affirms its transcendence beyond fashion’s limited circle into pop culture. It might even be tempting for other brands to try to create their own AI stunts.

But as AI content gets easier to create, it’s debatable whether an ocean of memes and mashups filled with brand signifiers will be helpful or harmful.

The situation is arguably analogous to the one brands faced when social media first appeared. Many feared ceding some measure of control over their images to bloggers and consumers who could wear their products and post their logos however they chose. Of course, in the end, social media turned into one of fashion’s most valued channels for communicating with its audience. (Some early consumer concerns, on the other hand, have proved warranted as evidence of social media’s harms piles up.)

AI may turn out differently for brands. Michael Miraflor, who worked at media agencies prior to his current role as chief brand officer at venture capital firm Hannah Grey, described it as “new territory.” For one thing, many consumers are distrusting or fearful of AI, and their expectations around the technology are being set at the same time brands and others are experimenting with the tools in public.

“Remember when Balenciaga did a content collab with The Simpsons, and how big of a deal that was? Likely took months of negotiation and creative work,” Miraflor tweeted recently. “It was wild at the time, but AI has made this sort of mashup feel… basic? Normal? Expected? The goalposts have shifted.”

One question to be answered is whether the Harry Potter video and Balenciaga’s most recent runway video should even be treated as equivalents. The former doesn’t actually feature any Balenciaga products, just clothing reminiscent of its look, and many of its viewers are only there to gawk at its AI-powered weirdness. The latter features a show that tried to serve reputation rehab for the brand after last year’s scandal involving a campaign showing kids alongside S&M-inspired products and has likely been watched by many current and potential customers.

But in Miraflor’s view, the AI video may not turn out to be so different from an influencer posting about a brand without its involvement. The current top comments on Balenciaga’s Autumn/Winter 2023 runway video are now all references to the Harry Potter mashup, suggesting the AI pastiche is driving traffic back to the brand’s official channels.

“I would have to think that many people who saw the Balenciaga Harry Potter mashup ended up doing further searches about Balenciaga,” Miraflor said.

Viral stunts in fashion have become more frequent in recent seasons, resulting in moments such as Sam Smith at the Brit Awards in inflatable Harri pants, or the celebrities at Schiaparelli wearing its trophy-like fake animal heads. Designers use them to generate buzz by playing into social media’s algorithmic churn. There’s incentive for brands to now use AI for the job.

It was already getting harder for brands to stand out with these efforts, however, prompting some to focus more on the quality of engagement rather than the quantity weighed in likes and views. In the end, AI may become a tool like any other, defined by the skill of the person wielding it. There are plenty of Balenciaga-fied videos available now, but not all are good.

Miraflor is now watching to see if we’re entering a “post-authentic” era, where it doesn’t matter to viewers whether content is “real” or not. Recently, for instance, Jacquemus posted a video to Instagram of car-sized versions of its handbags driving through Paris — the antithesis of its tiny Chiquito bags. They turned out to be digital 3D renderings, but many users couldn’t tell. And it didn’t much seem to matter. The video received 1.2 million likes, multiple times the number of the posts surrounding it.

Further Reading

The next phase of artificial intelligence promises to change – and potentially eliminate – many jobs that were unaffected by previous waves of automation.


Companies have started using the AI to come up with outfit recommendations, but while it’s surprisingly capable of suggesting looks for different occasions, creativity is where it still struggles — at least for now.


About the author
Marc Bain
Marc Bain

Marc Bain is Technology Correspondent at The Business of Fashion. He is based in New York and drives BoF’s coverage of technology and innovation, from start-ups to Big Tech.

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